Hey, Spike! awakens a lively ‘Bear’ of a man
Special to the Daily
A guy named “Bear,” living in Boulder with a second home in Breckenridge and writing about Cuba, you know he’s an interesting personality.
He is, and Alan “Bear” Stark is worthy of being a Hey, Spike! subject.
Not long ago Bear spent a week in Cuba, just before the Washington, D.C., and Havana relations began to thaw from six decades of trade and travel embargoes that began with President Eisenhower and almost led to nuclear war in the Kennedy Administration as Russians stationed missiles around the island nation, merely 90 miles from the Florida coast.
The Fidel Castro-led revolution continues today without guns, and little else in the socialist-thinking, dominated movement now headed by brother Raul Castro. Just this week the Obama Administration is taking a few more steps to re-establish normalcy between our countries.
Bear turned his travel to the land stuck-in-time into a freelance four-part series for the Mountain Gazette, where Spike! first picked up on him. Knowing things are about to change greatly for Cuba, Bear wanted to see it firsthand.
In a personalized take on their trip, he and wife Linda, he calls her “Blue Eyes,” Bear explains their excursion this way:
“Blue-Eyes and I are on a cultural tour of Havana and the western mountain region including the town of Vinales. We signed up for the trip about three days before President Obama announced a thaw in U.S. and Cuban relations. There was nothing prescient about this; we just wanted to visit Cuba. The Euros and Canadians, who have been coming here for years, are now all pissed off.”
“We wanted to see Cuba before the hoards of Americans arrived,” a Canadian told Bear.
Canadians and other international visitors have not been banned from visiting. The U.S. did not allow travel there except cultural types such as teachers, journalists and artists. Often Yankees arrange their travels through a Canadian agent.
“What the hoards are going to see first in central Havana is a city that appears to be crumbling before their eyes. Most of the buildings have had no maintenance in 50 or 60 years and are literally falling apart — brick by brick. The streets and sidewalks are in ill repair. In a way it feels like you are visiting someplace in Eastern Europe just after the end of the World War II,” reports Bear.
“I was only in Cuba for a week and I speak only for myself and what I saw. But the Cubans are great people with a dumb-assed government. Best guess is that Raul and the boys won’t relinquish power, but Cuba will become sort of like Vietnam, a highly socialist country where energetic people can get ahead,” states Bear.
Bear found Cubans a lovable bunch and described them as even more relaxed than what he finds in Boulder and Breckenridge.
“As mountain people, we think of ourselves as laid-back, maybe even pride ourselves on being pretty relaxed about most everything,” writes Bear. “But compared to Cubans, we’re like MBAs in a bank vault. Cubans are relaxed and happy in a way I’ve never seen before.”
But this column isn’t about Cuba, it’s about Bear, and while he may give the impression he’s kinda laid-back — now, his career path tells another story, a colorful one.
He got the nickname “Bear” from his mother, because “maybe for the way I acted as an infant, but she claimed that she hated the name ‘Al’ and wanted me to be called Alan or Bear.”
“Funny, that as I grew up the nickname disappeared until basic training when some fellow sufferers started calling me ‘Bear’ again, possibly because of the way I interacted with the military,” he adds.
“I have a BS in journalism and minors in history and political science from the University of Maryland at College Park,” Bear says, explaining he spent a long time in school avoiding the draft, “but they finally caught up with me and I found an Air National Guard spot that kept me out of Vietnam.”
Bear’s journalism and publishing career started at The Wall Street Journal, in a production plant outside of D.C., as a part-time proofreader and ended up as a make-up man in the composing room, working with about 30 union printers through two editions a day.
“Great job, second favorite in fact,” he offers, “but I needed to move on and took a job as a reporter for the Fort Collins Coloradoan.”
He had a young journalist’s credo, and quit when he found they were selling ads against the business page stories he was writing.
Next in Bear’s career was a job selling college textbooks with Random House.
“My book publishing career spiraled downward from there through seven publishing companies with jobs that included sales manager, marketing manager, director of sales and marketing, vice president and eventually publisher. My favorite job was director of sales and marketing at Mountaineers Books in Seattle. My last job was publisher at Colorado Mountain Club Press,” Bear recalls. “Oh, I almost forgot, I worked part time for (M. John) Fayhee at Mountain Gazette for about a year. Great adventure.”
Today, he takes stock this way:
“I’m 68 going on 45. I’ve been extremely lucky that my parts (all original) have held up and I can still get into the backcountry. Just to be obnoxious, I signed up for ski patrol training two years ago after retiring from publishing and am now a backcountry coordinator for Bryan Mountain Nordic Ski Patrol working in the Roosevelt National Forest in Boulder and Gilpin counties.”
Bear says he loves trail running, skiing, cycling and sailing.
“I’m competent at all, but not on the sharp-end of anything. I think that a sort of slow and steady approach to all my sports has kept me doing them all these years. Too many folks my age are on the couch permanently,” he says. “Odd that I never was much good at team sports — maybe the Bear thing again at work (too much independent thinking/too little interest in group goals) that makes me an unacceptable team member.”
Bear explains “Blue Eyes” is a partner in clothroads.com, selling textiles from all over the world.
“What’s really cool about what she and her partners do is that most of the money they make goes right back to the weavers and knitters in mostly Third World countries,” Bear says. “Their goal is keep indigenous crafts alive, that their work empowers women in these countries is a good thing.”
“One of the benefits of Linda’s work is that I get to tag along sometimes and have been to Guatemala and Peru. Our only trip to Cuba was a ‘people-to-people’ exchange organized by the Santa Fe Folk Arts Festival. Funny that we signed-up for the trip a week before the president opened the doors to Cuba a crack,” notes Bear.
Here’s Bear’s Boulder-Breckenridge comparison observation:
“I’ve been in Boulder over 40 years, with time off for working in Seattle for six years. We bought a condo in Breckenridge two years ago and wondered why we hadn’t done it 10 years ago. I look at Breck as an escape from Boulder. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Boulder, but it may be getting a tad too upscale for me. There is a kind of middle-class vibe about Breck that I like: it’s a real town with a huge amusement park on the west side.”
Bear’s colorful Colorado comment:
“This is going to sound naive because you can find yourself in a strip mail somewhere along the Front Range and it’s no different than being in someplace awful like LA, but there is this feeling here that Colorado is a special place, whether you are out on the High Plains, staring at the big empty and a sky that goes on forever or hunkered down in a blizzard in the High Country, just loving the fact that the mountains are testing you and so far, you’re doing okay.”
Miles F. Porter IV, nicknamed “Spike,” a Coloradan since 1949, is an Army veteran, former Climax miner, graduate of Adams State College, and a local since 1982. An award-winning investigative reporter, he and wife Mary E. Staby owned newspapers here for 20 years. Email your social info to firstname.lastname@example.org
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